Here at Marquam, equity, diversity and inclusion drive our approach to fundraising every day. We boast a diverse team with life experiences reflecting the varied communities we serve. We regularly talk about and demonstrate how to do better, be better and make positive change in our world and communities. We consistently strive to be a more inclusive and equitable organization.
Because we work with so many kick-ass organizations changing the world, they too have equity, diversity and inclusion front of mind. Our fundraising partners often ask, “How do we make our events more inclusive? How do we bring an equity lens to our fundraisers? And how do we bring to our events the diversity that reflects the communities we work in and serve?” Indeed.
These are all important conversations. And ones that we want to have with you. We’re not entirely sure what the right answers are – especially as they relate to major donor fundraising events like galas and auctions – but here’s what our team (comprised of many underrepresented populations) have come up with as a jumping-off point. It’s important to note that due to the diversity on our team, many of us think and feel differently about this topic, so feel free to engage any of us for a more in-depth discussion on how you, too, can be more inclusive, diverse and equitable in your fundraising and event practices. We’re here to help!
Where You Give
We’ve all heard it takes money to make money and events are no exception. Vendors must be paid. Events often employ catering, sound, video support staff, a videographer and/or photographer, auctioneer, event planner, venue… Imagine all of the opportunities you have to be inclusive. Integrate equity into this process by asking yourself: Are you giving opportunity to vendors who are minority-owned businesses? If not, consider utilizing vendors who are women, POC or LGBTQIA2S+ owned. If you’re having a tough time finding minority-owned vendors, reach out to us – we can offer plenty of referrals. Consider hiring vendors who have shared values on hiring employees from diverse backgrounds. Do your vendors provide their employees a living wage? Health care? How you spend your money makes a huge impact in our communities and communicates precisely what you believe in, so be mindful of where and how you’re investing.
Who you put on stage matters. A lot. Do the people on your stage actually reflect the communities, populations and values of those you serve? Are your emcee, auctioneer, honorary guests, awardees and other speakers reflecting the principles of equity and inclusion you wish to promote? We sure hope so. Your guests will walk away knowing a lot about you and your organization based solely on what they SEE.
How You Share Stories
We all know how important stories are to communicating your mission and impact – especially at events. However, sometimes the way we tell stories can unintentionally hurt the communities we are actively working to help. Ask yourself, when considering a lens of equity, are the clients featured in the storytelling actively involved in the creative process of how their story is told? Are they being featured as an overcomer and an example of achieving aspirational goals? Are they supported before, during and after sharing their story? Are they given a full understanding of the ways in which their story will be shared and for how long? Are they prepared for the ways in which that could impact their life long after the event? Are stories being told from the perspective of the organization, or from the voices of those being served? Are stories highlighting the strengths, resilience and power of the community? If not, you may have some work to do. It can be done, but it takes a fresh and inclusive perspective. We can help.
To Theme or Not to Theme?
Event themes can be loads of fun, but be mindful to select themes that are not culturally-insensitive. Avoid cultural appropriation. If you do implement a theme, is it mission-related in some way? Does it uplift and support the communities you serve? Is it general enough and not specific to a culture in which there is no representation from within your community? For example, a predominantly white organization hosting a Cinco De Mayo event can be perceived very differently than an organization led by and serving a Latinx community offering the same theme. Just stop for a moment and consider these things from a new perspective. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
When is Your Event?
It’s hard to choose a date. And there is often fierce competition for venues, auctioneers, event planners – all of your favorite vendors – for the hottest fundraising dates. Scheduling without double checking important dates and everyone’s calendars can be a disaster. Make certain all major donors can join. Be sure the date you choose is inclusive and does not clash with major faith holidays or traditions of your community of supporters. Also do your best to ensure it’s not on a date that a similar org is hosting their major event.
Honor All Donors + Gifts
It’s important to thank all donors: Major, minor and everyone in between. It’s also important to properly show everyone who gives their time, talent and resources adequate appreciation. Are there meaningful opportunities to give – for all income levels – at the event? Can anyone who wants to give do so? Are all levels of giving joyously celebrated and shown adequate attention? For those who don’t want or require the spotlight, can they give anonymously? Are all donors thanked post-event and shown appreciation for attending, regardless of their gift amounts? Do your stewardship activities show volunteers and donors the same level of love? They should.
Language – what you say and how you say it
Would it be helpful to consider adding a sign language interpreter at your event? How about offering printed materials and/or speakers in other predominate languages? Is inclusive language honoring genders beyond the binary being implemented? Are you using humanizing language, originating from the communities you serve?
When selecting event spaces, consider if your community can access the space. Are people in wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility devices easily accommodated? Is it located in a part of town served by public transportation? Will a lack of onsite parking or a long, arduous walk be prohibitive to guests? Consider captioning video content and/or showcasing an ASL interpreter to lend even more accessibility.
Food + Beverages
Do you have beverage options for those who don’t drink, other than just soda? Do you have food options for those with dietary restrictions, people from different cultural backgrounds or faith traditions? What are your methods of finding this out before the event? Your donors will appreciate knowing you’re thinking of them and considering their needs and desires.
Vary Event Formats
Not every event is for everyone. Consider your major demographics and craft specific events that cater to them. Consider the following: Ticket prices, formality of event, dress code, where the event is held, the format (dinner, cocktail party, friendraiser, walk/run, volunteer recruitment party, etc.), price point, target audience, the goal of the event, program content, visuals, videos, messaging, etc. Knowing the difference between your varied supporters and what inspires each of them goes a long way toward long-term fundraising success.
Do you serve a large population of parents? Is it possible to offer onsite (or nearby) childcare for guests? One org we recently worked with offered this for guests and saw record-breaking results, because more of their donors were able to attend!
The Tip of the Iceberg
This is just the beginning of our team’s collective brainstorm considering the many ways to include more equity, diversity and inclusion in fundraising events. There are so many things to consider and they’re all unique to who you are, what you do, and most importantly, who you serve.